This column is dedicated to the special children of Jammu and Kashmir. There was a time when children with birth defects were considered a liability and were mostly neglected and left to die. The first change was a change in the nomenclature while referring to them. They are now called the specially challenged children or children with special needs. But many even now remain reluctant or even ashamed to disclose that some of their children are specially challenged. However, with the initiative taken by some enterprising people led by Dr. Mohammad Maqbool Mir some years back, there is an appreciable change not only in the attitude of the people but also eagerness to seek the treatment as also to promote this activity in a big way.

The Voluntary Medicare Society also known as VMS headed by Dr. Maqbool set up a school for these specially challenged children under the name of Shafaqat in the year 2000. The word Shafaqat means love and that is what the school has been giving these children for years. The School has all facilities to attend to the needs of these special children. It is a day school where the school buses bring children in the morning and drop them back in the evening to their homes. A team of dedicated persons under the supervision of Dr. Bashir Ahmad takes care of the children’s needs in all respects.

The children are also given home follow up programmes after their rehabilitation. Recently, an inclusive school has been started where the specially challenged children with milder problems can receive formal education up to primary level. With great efforts and persuasion of the Society, the inclusive school has received government recognition. The School charges nominal fees from the persons who can afford to pay. Others are sponsored by some philanthropists and some organisations like the Jammu & Kashmir Bank. The State Bank of India has recently given a special grant to the School for setting up hearing aid facility for the children.

Apart from the children attending the School on daily basis, the faculty of the School visits different localities and runs community programmes within the homes of the children. They also keep track of the rehabilitated children at their homes as a follow up. There are many pathetic stories about some of the children. A young girl with multiple disabilities was brought to the school by her uncle who had been asked by the mother of the girl to throw her into the River Jhelum as she was totally frustrated and could not look after her. The girl was fully rehabilitated and sent back to her home after some years. There are now some more schools in the valley but the number of such children in need of care and rehabilitation is in thousands. Both the society in general and the government in particular are criminally negligent of this important aspect of our life. The school does not get any assistance or grant from the government. It is totally a voluntary contributory effort.

We, Kashmiris, are historically supposed to have been very kind hearted. However, the mayhem of last few decades has made us totally callous. People have become very materialistic, greedy and heartless. One witnesses extremes of everything. On one hand people are struggling to have a good meal a day while as on the other hand we waste huge quantities of food during marriages and other functions and ceremonies. Some people live in what can be termed “dirty” luxury! Rupees 500 crore worth cars are imported into Kashmir every year. Some of the cars are worth more than a crore of rupees! We spend lavishly on Golf Courses, Cable Cars and other recreational facilities but seem to be oblivious of these urgent rehabilitative needs! The last flood played havoc with the School but the efforts of the staff and assistance from philanthropists has fully reactivated the school. However, to fully rehabilitate and increase the activities they need substantial assistance.

Will, the rich of Kashmir come to their help?

(Photograph: A still from the film Goonj)